Most laptops can be used for any general purpose, but if your needs are simple or you just want to better manage your work machines, opting for a thin client like the TCM 160XPe (£459 inc. VAT) could be a worthwhile experience.
A thin client machine is one that doesn't store applications or even files on the actual machine; they are all loaded from a central server. This makes the TCM a fairly unique machine, as we haven't seen something along these lines before. As such, it isn't intended for the average user.
As you don't store anything on the machine, you won't find a hard drive on this laptop, which is great if you don't want to run the risk of losing vital information should your machine be stolen. There is a 512MB flash drive built in to hold and run applications from the server to help speed things up, and in an emergency you could store files here. However, on our fresh install, there was only 100MB available.
You'll find the operating system - Windows XP - is an embedded OS. This is a stripped-down version that can only be altered by your IT manager. With this in mind, connectivity is high with the TCM160XPe, coming with 802.11b/g as standard, but the OS also supports the use of GPRS and 3G.
You'll also find that a laptop with an embedded OS doesn't need as much processing power, so the use of a VIA C7 M processor makes perfect sense here. It runs at 800MHz, but it handled standard office tasks with relative ease.
The machine weighs in at 2.7kg, so while you won't want to carry it around on a daily basis, the infrequent traveller will appreciate it. In terms of battery life, the use of an embedded OS and stripped-down feature list helps considerably. We found the system regularly lasted for three hours in daily use.
The keyboard is a standard size and, while it looks nothing out of the ordinary, it proved extremely pleasing to use. The keys are well mounted and respond well, making this a great machine to use regularly. The build quality also impressed us, with the casing being solid and firm.
If you're looking for a great example of what a simple but effective laptop should feel like, this is it. With no storage space we were unable to run benchmarking software on this laptop. However, we found it was a responsive machine, especially for the asking price.
The NEC TCM160Xpe is a specialised machine designed for a specific purpose and, to that end, it is more than successful. If you have need for a thin client laptop, this is a commendable machine.